Q4 2016 mobile site performance analysis

The 10th installment in an exclusive series, this publication is reporting on quarterly mobile site performance as monitored by Catchpoint Systems, New York. Find out in this installment how leading brands in the retail, banking and travel sectors fared.

Here, in its entirety, is the report as penned exclusively for this publication by Dennis Callaghan, director of industry innovation at Catchpoint.

Mobile retail
The fourth quarter is the make-it-or-break-it season for retailers.

In Q4 2016, the top five performing (fastest) mobile retail sites were Grainger, Apple, Amazon, Toys “R” Us and Home Depot.

All delivered webpage load times of less than 2 seconds, with the homepages of Grainger, Apple and Amazon downloading in the 1.3 seconds range. Grainger, Apple, and Amazon are repeat appearances in the top five from Q3, with Toys “R” Us and Home Depot replacing Costco and Best Buy to round out Q4’s top five.

The average webpage load time for mobile retail was 3.3 seconds. This was 25 percent slower than in Q3 (2.64 seconds), but surprisingly, the Q4 average page weight (1.64MB) was lighter than in Q3 (1.72MB).

Page weight plays an important role in Web site download speeds. The top four performers this quarter all had page weights of under 1MB, and Home Depot came in at 1.44MB.

The much slower site speed in Q4 suggests that other performance-impacting factors were at play, especially third-party services.

During the Black Friday/Cyber Monday holiday ecommerce period, numerous mobile sites experienced slowdowns directly attributable to such services.

Williams-Sonoma’s Black Friday mobile site problems could be traced to Photorank, a custom photo display service designed to help drive conversions. Throughout that day Williams-Sonoma mobile (as well as desktop) experienced load time spikes of upwards of 25 seconds, considered unacceptable.

On Cyber Monday, Walmart’s mobile site had problems due to a third-party advertising tag that was failing to load. Many third-party services are not designed to handle heavy traffic, and that was obvious this holiday season.

Mobile travel
The top five performing mobile travel sites in Q4 were TripAdvisor, Booking, Delta, Hotwire and Priceline.

These sites had very slim pages, particularly Delta (.40MB) and Hotwire (.50MB). These are the same top five performers as Q3, with the exception of TripAdvisor, which catapulted to first place in Q4 from 12th place in Q3 (in spite of a slight page weight increase).

TripAdvisor replaced Southwest in the top five – Southwest had been number 2 in the prior quarter, but then fell to sixth place in Q4, coinciding with a substantial increase in page weight (.54 MB in Q3, to .89 MB in Q4).

TripAdvisor had been #2 in both Q1 and Q2. Google Flights, which had been #1 in both Q1 and Q2, fell to #8 in Q3, and stayed there in Q4.

In Q4, the average mobile travel page weight increased to 1.98MB from Q3’s 1.65MB – a 20 percent increase (the Q3 average weight would have actually been much lower, 1.23MB, if it were not for one outlier site).

This contributed to the group’s collective performance decline – from an average webpage load time of 3.24 seconds in Q3, to 4.08 seconds in Q4. Q4 is traditionally the busiest season for travel companies, and it is not surprising that page weights increased as travel companies promoted special deals and offerings.

Mobile banking
In the mobile banking category, the Q4 top five performing sites were US Bank, TD Bank, Citizens Bank, Huntington and Capital One. TD Bank and Huntington replaced Citibank and Bank of America, who were in Q3’s top five. The top five sites had webpage load times of less than 2.5 seconds.

The overall performance of the mobile banking sites is very consistent and strong. The average webpage load time was 2.43 seconds, and the slowest-performing site clocked in at 3.72 seconds – still faster than the average mobile travel site, and only slightly slower than the average mobile retail site. This makes mobile banking the fastest-performing industry in the index.

In Q4, the average total downloaded byte size was1.84MB, slightly lighter than Q3 (1.9MB). Throughout the year, the mobile banking sites have grown progressively slower with each passing quarter. In Q3, the average webpage load time was 2.23 seconds, up from the sub-two second mark in Q1 and Q2.

The mobile banking sites have traditionally been the slimmest in our index – in Q3, the average total downloaded bytes would have been much lower (less than 1MB) had it not been for one particularly heavy site.
Interestingly, the mobile banks’ average total downloaded bytes was heavier than mobile retail this quarter, likely a testament to retailers’ efforts to deliver light pages and lightning-fast performance for the holidays.

Mobile news sites
Mobile news sites have a reputation for being the most bloated, slowest sites across the industries we measure.

Consistent with this trend, in Q4, the average webpage load time in mobile news was 4.5 seconds, and the average total downloaded bytes was a heavy 2.46MB.

Services such as Google AMP, Facebook Instant News and Apple News have grown out of the resulting consumer frustration with slow load times, as they enable virtually instantaneous downloads on mobile devices.

The top five performing sites were NPR, CBS News, Financial Times, Sky News and Huffington Post.

Our data does not tell us if these sites are powered by a service such as Google AMP, but they all delivered webpage load times of approximately 2 seconds or less, attributable in large part to slim pages. All of the sites were under the 2.46MB average, with the exception of CBS News, which was 2.68MB.

Across the mobile news sites, there was wide discrepancy in performance. There were some very bright spots. For instance, NPR as the fastest site among all the sites we monitored across all industries, which is impressive for a news site.

However, some of the biggest names in news faltered, delivering webpage load times in the 6-8 seconds range. This may be attributable, in part, to heavy traffic volumes coinciding with the 2016 election.

Q4 summary
Retailers should be congratulated for strong performance during the all-important holiday season.

Improvements can be made by keeping page weights down and assessing third-party services, using only those that are absolutely necessary to avoid negative performance impacts.

Comparatively, the travel sites are slower, and they also need to keep an eye on page weights. Delta and Hotwire should be commended for being among the lightest sites across the industries in our index. TripAdvisor was also the second-fastest site in our entire index.

Banks no longer hold the distinction of being the most lightweight sites, although as a group, they continue to be the fastest, with US Bank being the third-fastest performer across the index.

The news sites must continue focusing on slimming down and speeding up. This will be important as they strive to attract traffic to their own pages, and counteract the trend of news consumption through alternative services like Facebook Instant News and Apple News.

Finally, within the mobile news category, non Google AMP sites will be vying for traffic along with Google AMP sites, and they must focus on performance to remain competitive.

Dennis Callaghan is director of industry innovation at Catchpoint Systems, New York. Reach him at [email protected]